Vermont and the Contradictions of Place

My latest column is online at Governing and is about Vermont and the contradictions of place.

Pretty much the entire Great Plaines, Midwest, and Northeast looks bad on population and economic metrics. The biggest exception is North Dakota with its likely temporary oil boom. This region varies enormously in terms of climate, geography, demographics, mix of urban and rural, politics etc. but has remained persistently slow growing. Vermont, for example, embodies much the progressive conventional wisdom on place making and policy but with limited results.

Here’s an excerpt:

Despite its superb natural environment and many place-based progressive policies designed to protect it, Vermont is demographically and economically stagnant. Conservatives might be quick to point out the governance difference between libertarian Montana and left-leaning Vermont, but there are plenty of red states in the East that are also relatively stagnant, such as Indiana and West Virginia.

It’s practically a truism today that people are attracted to natural amenities and quality of place in the built environment. That seems to be true to some extent. But Vermont (and northern New England generally) illustrates the limits of natural amenities and place-based policies to trigger growth. So much of population growth is regional, happening in the South and West. There’s a heavy correlation of population growth with warm weather. There’s not much that places in the north can do about that. But the recent growth in places like Idaho and Montana, where it does get cold in the winter, show that climate can’t be the only answer.

Growth is more mysterious and more out of our control than any of us, myself included, would like to admit. There is no magical public policy that can cause a fundamental change in a state’s growth curve. Neither public investment nor tax cuts seem to make much difference.

Click over to read the whole thing.